Schenectady

HERE FOR GOOD: All in the family — ‘We support each other, good or bad, happy or sad.’

The Schenectady Hindu Temple on Webster Street; Top Right: Arjunen Armogan; Middle Right: Shoby Mahabir, left, and Lalita Persaud; Bottom Right: Mukesh Khemraj
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The Schenectady Hindu Temple on Webster Street; Top Right: Arjunen Armogan; Middle Right: Shoby Mahabir, left, and Lalita Persaud; Bottom Right: Mukesh Khemraj

It can be easy sometimes to tell if a Guyanese person is living in a neighborhood just by the fence they have surrounding their yard. It’s usually iron and decorative — just like the one in front of the Hindu Temple and Guyanese Community Center in Schenectady.

Lalita Persaud said it’s part of the Guyanese culture and something some Guyanese implemented into their homes when they moved here. She said they use the fences because of the beauty of the design and they add much-needed privacy while still feeling inviting.

Persaud came to Schenectady from her home in Brooklyn in 2003, after hearing from others who previously came in 2002 about housing affordability in the city and job openings.

She said she has loved every minute of being here.

“It’s beautiful, I can’t complain,” she said.

Persaud arrived with her multigenerational family — two kids, her mother, her father, her two brothers and their families, and her sister.

She said the ability to afford a house was one motivating reason she moved upstate. She was able to buy a home for $80,000 in Schenectady, where she has lived since moving north, something she said she may not have been able to afford in New York City.

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“It was easier to get by over here,” she said.

She was also able to get a job quickly and has been working there since she moved to the area. She said the move wasn’t challenging at all.

What made it easy was that the Guyanese community is so close-knit and if anyone needs help, she said, there is always someone in the community willing to help.

“We support each other, good or bad, happy or sad,” she said, noting everyone in the Guyanese community is considered family.

Those close ties are evident in the relationships Persaud has made, like the one she has with Mukesh Khemraj, one of her friends and someone she considers more of a brother.

Khemraj and his cousin moved to Schenectady from Queens for reasons similar to Persaud’s — the homes are cheaper, as is overall cost of living. He also arrived after many people who worked in Manhattan had been laid off after the Sept. 11 attacks.

“I came with an open mind,” he said. “It was both a challenge and positive.”

Khemraj said he faced some racist slurs and rumors that swirled about the Guyanese community. He recalled a time he was praying outside and people from behind a fence began throwing rocks. Then there were rumors that Guyanese people didn’t pay taxes in the city — which he said has never been true.

But those experiences didn’t dissuade his willingness to settle in the community.

Over the years those kinds of slights and slurs have largely dissipated, he said.

“Schenectady is a melting pot now,” he said, noting he tells others to move to the city still.

Persaud agreed with Khemraj and said she tells anyone who asks that the city is a good place to live.

“I love the community,” she said.

Persaud said the city’s ability — for the most part — to include the Guyanese community has been astounding and members of the Guyanese community get involved when they can. Persaud and Punema Singh are known for being involved, Khemraj said. They’re the first to volunteer for any event, he said.

Singh said she moved to the city 10 years ago with her husband and two kids. She said she still lives in the city and echoed most of what Khemraj and Persaud had to say. She said the move was relatively easy because there had been so many others since 2002 that had come and figured it out. And she said even if there were challenges “the good outweighed the challenges.”

They all agreed that to make this work it took a lot of open-mindedness and willingness to accept Guyanese people. That must continue, Khemraj said.  The path is simple: “Just treat people fairly,” he said.

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Categories: News, Schenectady County

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